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PARIS IS BURNING

USA, 1990 (MIFF 1991, Documentaries)

Director: Jennie Livingston

They call themselves The Children. They are messengers, welfare recipients, salespeople and prostitutes. The Children live in two worlds, the world of poor Blacks and Latinos in New York City, and the world of Realness, where through costume and competition, dance and inspired performance, they imitate - and transcend - the powerful fantasy media that exclude them.

Realness is a competitive category in which the most normative roles in our culture are replicated perfectly by its most marginalized members - gay blacks and Hispanics, the Children who gather in "houses" and are nurtured and coached by "house mothers" so that they can parade and compete for enormous trophies at Harlem drag balls.

This group of roughly five hundred New Yorkers ranging in age from fifteen to fifty. They are fluent in the ideas of Dallas, Dynasty and Vogue, and convert their love of the media into rich improvisational language and culture. Paris is Burning reveals members of the group as they exchange news and sex and practice the competitive dance which combines the acrobatics of breakdancing with moves based on the poses of fashion models. We witness the origins of the "vogueing" phenonemon long before it was purloined into the mainstream by Madonna!

Paris is Burning takes an audience into a gay subculture in New York; what the audience finds there is a people's profound will to survive. This is a group that converts images of fashion and advertising into its own version of soul, into a world of creativity, sustenance and vitality.

Filmed largely in 1987 in New York, Paris Is Burning took three years to complete, so with updates and media contexts book-ending the film, it has the historical value of a time capsule, and its poignancy as well.

- Winner, Best Documentary, 1991 Sundance Film Festival

- Teddy Bear Awards, Berlin Film Festival.

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